Cheating in an exam isn’t something I’d ever encourage, but if you’re going to cheat, you need at least to be sure that the person whose answers you’re copying knows more than you. So we can only envy any would-be cheater who was lucky enough to be sat next to Liz Sharma in the A2 exam and managed to peep over her shoulder when she wasn’t looking. Liz is the host of Talk The Streets, the popular YouTube series and she recently took the exam as part of a citizenship application and vlogged about it. Anyway, I know one of the most frequent questions I get is about where to find exam resources so I am officially designating this video as pretty flipping useful. A lot of what she says backs up what I said in my previous posts about the form of the exams but she’s obviously much more advanced than I am now, let alone how I was when I did my first exam. That means she’s got a bit more detachment from the stress-factor, which allows her to be cool and calm about the advice she gives, whereas I think my blog posts probably read like someone who has just escaped from being held hostage!
Here’s my review of the Portuguese for Foreigners Online Self Study course for level C1, also known as DAPLE, offered by Camões Instituto da Cooperação e da Língua. I finished the course on Saturday so it seems like a good idea to get it out of my head and onto a blog post while it’s still fresh.
The Instituto offers courses at all levels of the CAPLE framework from A1 (beginner) to C2 (God-mode). It also caters for different kinds of packages: this review is just the self study option, but for a further €140, I could have gone the de luxe route and added some tutor interaction. See here for more details about the options. I haven’t done any of the other courses so I don’t know whether or not my opinion of this one applies equally to the whole range. I mean I guess so, but who knows?
The obvious attraction of doing a course created by the organisation that designed the exam curriculum, is that you’re getting it “straight from the horse’s mouth”. You know that they will be teaching subjects the exam board think are important at this level so there’s a good chance they will come up in the exam. That’s great, and I think it’s undoubtedly one of the strongest selling points of the course: it gives you a road map of what you need to know. And it doesn’t just teach you about grammar and vocabulary, it tries to weave those together with the major themes you need to know about. The topics for each of the twelve units are
- Ourselves and others – interpersonal interactions
- Carpe Diem – enjoying free time
- A healthy mind in a healthy body
- From the field to the city – different ways of life
- Thinking about the future – training and professional development
- Giving new worlds to the world – immigration and emigration
- Science and religion – allies or enemies?
- New information technologies – solitary closeness and collective isolation
- Portugal and my country – festivals and traditions
- Portugal and the arts
- Portugal today
- Portugal and the world
I think the course is definitely worth doing for this reason alone: insofar as learning a new language entails learning about the culture, the place and the people, it’s useful to have someone walk you through how Portugal sees itself and its place on the world. Whenever I see lessons about Portuguese culture it tends to be Fado, recipes for cod, o Galo de Barcelos, and all that tourist-friendly stuff. Interesting, no doubt, but this course gets down into how trust works in neighbourhoods where shopkeepers know their neighbours and extend credit where it’s needed, and what is it that makes such trust possible; the migrant experience and the role of Portugal and its former colonies in the wider world. In other words, it goes deeper. It also gives you tools to be able to describe challenges that all countries face, like the rise of social media, the decline of religion and the challenges of international cooperation.
How does this map onto the exam itself? Well, the cultural knowledge will come in handy in the fourth (spoken) part, which seems to be where you’re most likely to describe your knowledge of some cultural or social trend. Even though you’re not speaking in the course, you’re getting used to thinking about the ideas and making use of the vocabulary.
As for the other three sections*, there are audio/video components that are going to be useful in developing your listening skills for the aural comprehension. It’s far, far easier than the aural comprehension section of the exam because of the time available and the relatively simple questions you’re asked, so don’t get lulled into a false sense of security. Likewise, the written comprehension is quite a bit easier than in the exam. OK, the way I’m talking, I expect it sounds like I got full marks and I definitely didn’t, but I feel like I lost more marks through carelessness than because I was unable to interpret an ambiguous or tricky question.
When it comes to the written work, there are some exercises based on grammar but they’re quite minimal. Each new structure it introduces is covered in a very basic way and the students is only really expected to do one question for each, which isn’t really enough to push it into your long term memory.
So summing up: It was €180 well spent, but it’s not a perfect course. But I could have guessed that. No one learning tool is ever going to tick all the boxes and we always need to look at multiple sources. This one has no speaking component, but I could have got that by signing up for the premium course. Or I could use an online tutor on a site like italki or Polytripper or even just ask around on one of the many Facebook groups for Portuguese learners like this one (European only but heavily moderated) or this one (freer and easier but includes Brazilian Portuguese). It’s a little weak on grammar, but that’s what exercise books are for, and a book won’t mark you down if you accidentally make a typo or if spellchecker changes your right answer to a wrong answer. The book I’m about to start using (Português Outra Vez) doesn’t have any audio component but it’s very text-heavy so I’m expecting it to be able to boost my grammar levels up a notch or two using it.
So if you’re considering going in for one of the exams, definitely consider one of these courses as a sort of route map, but don’t make it the whole of your learning plan: be prepared to take notes for further study afterwards. You’ll probably need it.
Oh and one more thing: if you do it, do it in your browser. Don’t bother with the app.
*=If you haven’t already taken an exam, have a look at one of my descriptions of the exam process for more background on what is in each section. Here’s the B1 exam, for example.
The site came back online and I’ve finished the course now.
I WAS PLANNING TO FINISH IT TODAY!!!!
I found this exercise very, very hard. Even when I got the results back, I still couldn’t make sense of why the right answers were the right answers. I asked about it and got an answer but before I read it I’m going to write out a translation and try to sort it out in my own head… OK, what have we got?
She liked figs, the old woman. And he’d always feel himself accompanied from time to time. Not that she made a big ________ in that friendship. Far from it. The Apple of her eye was the only daughter, the child who had patted him when she was little.
And options for that space are “lufa-lufa” (being busy with lots of tasks), “finca-pé” (a firm stance) and bate-papo (chit-chat)
The old lady, all her life, had kept him at a distance. She gave him a loaf of bread (honor indeed!) but she _______ straight afterwards: – get away! And he took himself away cerimoniously to his bed.
And options for that one are “engolia sapos” (swallowed frogs – meaning did something she really didn’t want to do), “borrava a pintura” (smudged the painting) or… Something else, i can’t remember.
Uyth, in the Portuguese subreddit, explained that this is from a book called Bichos by Miguel Torga, which is embarrassing because I’ve read that and I still didn’t get it! It’s a very difficult book though, so it’s no wonder it was chosen for an advanced course like this. When I read it I felt all at sea and I only really managed to follow two or three stories.
Anyway, in the first case, finca-pé was the right answer because taking a firm stance on friendship means making an effort to keep it going. And in the second case, borrava a pintura – smudged the painting – means she undid the effects of something good she’d done. So after giving the animal (a donkey, if I remember rightly) the lump of bread, she chases him away.
OK, I can see that. Wow, so hard though! Some of the exercises were super-easy, so this one came as a real shock!
I’ve quite nearly finished the C1 course, y’know. I wasn’t expecting to be ready for the C1 exam this spring, but I might just sign up in May because it’s going well: the advanced material is not so hard and I think I can pass with another 3 months to play with, despite still, still, making so many mistakes and never quite feeling ready, I have passed almost all the in-course tests first time.
I said, a few days ago, that the official C1 course I was taking through the Camões Instituto de Cooperação e da Língua was being hampered by network troubles. They’ve been sorted out now. It must just have been a temporary glitch. I’m still not convinced though. It’s not hugely expensive as these things go, so I’m not too traumatised or anything but it’s worth setting out the pros and cons for the benefit of anyone who is considering following the same path.
First of all, the pros: the course is designed by the same people who design the exams, so the topics it covers are likely to come up as discussion topics in the exam. So it’s a good way of getting familiar with that kind of vocabulary. It has several hours’ worth of content, intended to be studied week by week, but it’s delivered on demand so you can go faster if you like.
Now the cons: the app is broken. That’s OK though, you can take the course in a web browser and there have been a few times I’ve had to do that just to progress, because I simply couldn’t scroll to the answer in the app, or because it gave me an error message every time I tried to move onto a page. Just don’t even bother with it. Save yourself the headache and do it in the web browser instead.
The actual content isn’t especially challenging. For example, I’ve just done a quiz about health. You’re supposed to start with a text about healthy lifestyles then answer a series of questions like “Physical activity is essential for a healthy life – True/False”. Well um, I don’t really need to go back to the text to answer that, thanks.
Maybe the reason for the ease of the questions is that there’s quite a strong emphasis on culture. The health topic is perhaps not the best example to use, but in the very first section, there’s an exercise about local shops and their role in poor communities. The questions were sort of ridiculous, considered purely as a matter of language. In one, we’re shown a picture of a man, standing in a shop holding a book with people’s names and the various things they’d been given in credit, so he could keep track of who owed what. The challenge was to pick out words from a list that could be used as a caption for the picture. You’re not told how many to pick. I chose “mercearia” and “comerciante” but I should also have picked “proximidade”, “bairro” and “comércio local”
In the next question, you’re asked what makes it possible for a neighbourhood to feel like a large family. And the options are a confiança, o afeto, a proximidade or o tempo. The answer is not given in the text, you just need to think about it. The correct answer is “o afeto”
So… Okay… It felt a little random, and didn’t really challenge my vocabulary skills, but I suppose they’re trying to get you to think of what neighbourhood means in Portugal, and to understand the ties that bind local communities as well as just purely being able to use grammar correctly. So there’s an element of comprehension of the text, but also an expectation that you’ll use empathy to comprehend the actions of the individuals.
So I think my early review would be that the course is worth taking if you intend to take the exam seriously and want to be prepared for the conversation topics, and it’s definitely worth taking if you are considering citizenship and want to get to know the culture. But I don’t think it’s enough on its own, at least to judge from what I’ve seen so far, you’d also need to go through a textbook, because you’ll need something else to really stretch you linguistically and, from what I’ve seen so far, this ain’t it.
I’m on day 66 of my epic quest for C1 competence. I’ve finished Português Atual (which is one of the books reviewed on this page) and signed on for the Instituto Camões course. They are the people responsible for administering the exams so I feel like this is “straight from the horse’s mouth” as it were, but I wish they’d work on the website a bit more because all I’ve learned so far is how to say “page loading”.
I’ll update on here as I go along. If I go along…
I’m a 40 days into my long march to C1 proficiency. I’m doing pretty well. Here’s what I’ve been doing in each of the goals:
- Make a new Twitter account, tweet only in Portuguese – Done! I’ve been updating daily, trying to pass as an illiterate Portuguese guy. 52 followers so far and nobody has come out and denounced me as an imposter but I daresay they are thinking it. I did have one person – a Brazilian – refer to me a a Tuguinho, which I enjoyed. She was a nutjob though so it probably doesn’t count.
- Watch one Portuguese movie or series episode per week. Done! So far, half way through a series called Crónica dos Bons Malandros and I’ve watched one film. I don’t watch much telly generally so this is hard work.
- Finally finish “A Actualidade em Português*” Done!
- Then do one esercise of Português Atual* C1 or one from this course per day. Done! I’ve hit at least one exercise per day, usually quite a lot more. I’m about two thirds of the way through the book now and I’ll start on the course next.
- Only read Portuguese books (exception for work-related books that I need to read for career development). Done. I’ve read no books in English since the start of the challenge apart from a work-related book about spreadsheets.
- Listen to mainly portuguese audio. Could probably be better tbh. I’ve listened to quite a lot but it’s still in the minority.
- Memorise one Portuguese poem per week. I’ve done four: Coroai-me De Rosas by Ricardo Reis, Segue o Teu Destino by the same author, Flagrante by Antonio Zambujo and Tenho Pena de Quem é o Meu Amigo by Gregório Duvivier. So I’m one short. This is really painful to be honest.
- Write something each day on the Portuguese Writestreak subreddit. Done! My streak is up to 40 days now.
- Follow the Bertrand Portuguese History Course once a fortnight Done! I’ve mentioned this a few times because of the scandal surrounding the teacher. I missed the first session due to senility but that was just before the challenge period so I’m still golden!
I’ve done some side-quests too! My first one was the project I did to try and understand the outline of Portuguese politics; then I went to see a night of (mostly) Portuguese music and this week I tried my hand at cooking a pudding called Pudim de Leite Condensado from a Portuguese recipe.
Behold its majesty!
So that’s how I’m doing. The schedule is a lot easier than I expected. I’m finding it a faff to fit the weekly goals in, especially now I’m in full time work again, but I’ll keep plugging away!
Here’s a confusing instance of double-meanings from the C1 exercises.
The question is to find synonyms for a list of words. One of the words is “Confuso” and the options it gives are (a) desordenado (b) esclarecido (c) desarrumado (d) obscuro.
The answer is obviously (a) right? Right? Well, no, it’s (d) according to the book. I went to the Porto Editora dictionary and it seems to support my claim.
But wait, what’s that in the second row?
I posted on the Portuguese subreddit in a we-was-robbed-ref kind of way and most people agreed that (d) was the best answer.
Priberam gives the same two definitions but in a different order of precedence.
Bit of a mess really. I don’t think the question is well written but it’s worth bearing in mind that Confuso has a slightly different weighting from its English equivalent.